Neel Gives Telecom Regulators So-So Marks


Washington -- United States Telecom Association president
Roy Neel gave telecommunications regulators slightly higher marks last week for making the
industry more competitive this year, but he said more must be done in the year to come.

The telco trade-association chief -- who assessed the
performance of both the Federal Communications Commission and Congress in pursuing the
goals of the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996 -- offered limited praise for efforts
to bring competition to the telecommunications industry.

"In a number of areas, we think there is a lot of work
to be done," said Neel, who gave the FCC a grade of "C" on a
"legislative and regulatory report card" for 1999.

Neel, addressing a group of journalists, urged the FCC to
approve Bell Atlantic Corp.'s application to provide long-distance service in keeping with
Congress' mandate for competition. If approved, the application would allow Bell Atlantic
to offer long distance in New York state.

While Neel said he was pleased that the FCC approved the
SBC Communications Inc.-Ameritech Corp. merger, he claimed that the process took too long,
adding that future mergers will most likely be slowed down by similar FCC scrutiny.

"This does not change everything overnight," Neel
said, cautioning the industry not to be overly optimistic about the implications of the

On the other hand, he added, the FCC has unfairly adopted a
"hands-off" approach to broadband cable networks, while continuing to heavily
regulate incumbent local-exchange carriers.

The commission, which has followed a policy of
"vigilant restraint" in its approach to the broadband industry, has said
premature regulation of the budding broadband industry could stunt its growth.

Neel, however, said the USTA is not asking for greater
regulation of broadband cable providers such as AT&T Corp., but rather for
deregulation of the entire industry.

Citing an improvement in Congress' efforts to increase
industry competition this past year, Neel praised a bill sponsored by Reps. Billy Tauzin
(R-La.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) to deregulate the Internet and high-speed-data
services. He added that the USTA intends to support the Tauzin-Dingell bill vigorously
when Congress resumes next year.

In addition to grading the federal government's performance
in assisting competition, the USTA also issued slightly higher marks for recent efforts to
reduce industry regulation on the whole and to provide universal service throughout the

Neel listed several goals that the USTA hopes to implement
next year. Universal service, reformed FCC policies regarding access, accelerated FCC
internal reform, balanced FCC regulation and a deregulated broadband industry were among
the policy goals cited.

States News Service